Inspired by Stephen King Country – Maine

Stephen King and Maine inspired me when visiting two weeks ago, but probably not the way that you think. It’s the perfect state for King to live in and produce books. A certain kind of books. Horror. Sometimes vacations aren’t at all what we expect.

Our first stop on the tour of Maine.

After flying into Bangor for our 30th wedding anniversary, Danny and I rented a car and drove right to his house. Okay. That sounds super creepy and stalkerish, but it’s a town landmark. Go ahead. Google, Bangor Landmarks. It’s on the list along with Paul Bunyan’s statue, (Dang, missed that one), and the Bangor Historical Society, with Chipotle Mexican Grill at the top of the list. Bangor has a population of 32,000.

As I drove up West Broadway, there were several cars parked along the wide avenue. Some voyeurs took pictures through the glass of their vehicles. Not us. We walked up to King’s gate. The wrought iron contained a spider and web, a dragon, and a capital K, just in case you weren’t sure if you had the right address. Exposed to the street, the home seemed to invite onlookers, as opposed to the house next door which hid behind a thicket of bushes and trees. The weather was perfect. Drizzling with a touch of fog.

Stephen King's House

Then we ate lunch in downtown Bangor. An advertisement for a play at the Penobscot Theater hung in the window. My favorite of all of Stephen King’s work, MISERY would open on Thursday night! We bought tickets for a mere twenty-seven dollars. I wondered if The Man himself would be in the audience.

In the meantime, we explored Bar Harbor, Bucksport, Camden, and Rockland and found a few bookstores. Each had a section set aside for Stephen King’s books. Some were like shrines.

A storefront in Bangor advertising Stephen King Tours.

IT displayed in Bangor store window

“He’s prolific,” said a young waiter. “He writes every day and sticks to a routine.”

Curious, I looked it up. According to an article written for Open Culture, King ritualizes writing time like some prepare for bedtime.

He’s quoted as saying in Lisa Rogak’s Haunted Heart: The Life and Times of Stephen King:

“I have a glass of water or a cup of tea. There’s a certain time I sit down, from 8:00 to 8:30, somewhere within that half hour every morning,” he explained. “I have my vitamin pill and my music, sit in the same seat, and the papers are all arranged in the same places. The cumulative purpose of doing these things the same way every day seems to be a way of saying to the mind, you’re going to be dreaming soon.”

Maine is a summer vacation destination.

We arrived in October! Somehow, we didn’t get the memo.

Some shops and restaurants had already shuttered. We stayed at the gorgeous West Street Hotel in Bar Harbor and discovered nearly the entire island including the hotel would close in another week or two.

Until then, cruise ships deposited eight to ten thousand people on shore EVERY DAY! Older people filled the sidewalks, gift shops and restaurants in the quaint downtown. Sometimes I led Danny into the street to pass them.

Because of the older median age of the tourists, warning signs lined the trail in Acadia National Park.

What steep grade and sharp curve?

Quaint meaning super dinky.

After leaving Acadia, I looked up towns to visit. A blog post with Prettiest Towns in Maine came up at the top of the feed. I perused the list. Portland was too far away and so was Kennebunkport. Blue Hill was sort of on our way back to Bangor. We arrived and drove past a gas station, a co-op, a gift shop, cafe, and beautiful harbor surrounded by nicely tended homes and yards. We drove back and asked a customer coming out of the store with a bag of groceries. “Where’s the downtown?” I asked.

“This is it,” he said.

Most of the towns were like that. We rarely saw fishermen on the lakes or active boats in the harbor. I had always dreamed of going to Maine to embody Jessica Fletcher from Murder She Wrote and ride my bike. We only saw one biker since the hills were killer.

Every town seemed to hold its collective breath.

I thought fall color would be at its peak.

Because of warm and dry weather, most leaves were still green and many had already dropped. That happened in the Colorado mountains last fall. We arrived on their first rainy day.

We found colorful landscapes in Acadia.

Fall in Acadia

We encountered more cemeteries than people.

We could drive for miles and never see another vehicle or police car. The entire population of the state is around 1.3 million.

One of many cemeteries in Maine

Between the ghostly quiet towns and the huge expanse of undeveloped forested areas, goosebumps rose on my arms more than once.

I described the isolation to my son who said, “Maybe it will inspire you to write a book. It sounds like a great place for serial killers.” Right after his comment, I noticed Patterson’s new book, HAUNTED, about this particular variety of killer set in Maine. He must have traveled there in October.

 

Winters are tough. The state depends on summer tourism. We ran into an enthusiastic local in Acadia National Park who raved about wintering among the shuttered towns. “We sled and cross country ski. It’s beautiful in the winter.” The Mainers were very friendly, positive people reminiscent of the Midwesterners I grew up with. We really enjoyed meeting them.

MISERY in Bangor.

On Thursday night, the Penobscot Theater filled and the lights dimmed. After the first few lines, the words, “I’m your biggest fan,” were uttered by the character, Annie Wilkes played by AJ Moonie while grateful and drugged out Paul Sheldon, played by James Konicek, groaned in pain. Moonie nailed Kathy Bates’ portrayal of the deranged nurse and I could almost see James Caan in Konicek’s pained expressions as the crippled victim.

Here’s what surprised me.

In the super intense parts of the play where Annie became brutally violent, the crowd tittered, giggled, and a couple guffawed. Every time someone made a bodily sound it woke me from MISERY’s spell.

When I mentioned it to my son, he remarked that sometimes people react inappropriately when fearful. The scenes were super realistic. I cringed several times, so that could be true.

I’ve been to children’s productions where the audience showed more respect to a cast by not talking. Maybe Mainers don’t get to the theaters very often where we are all instructed to sit quietly. I’ve never witnessed anything like it.

It didn’t throw off the actors. They never missed a beat. Maybe they’ve witnessed this many times before. The small ensemble cast of three would make Stephen King proud.

We scanned the audience but King didn’t make it to that night’s performance. I’m sure he will take a stroll to the theater sometime between now and November 5th. I bet he’ll love it. We did!

Inspired by vacationing.

The irony of the setting hit me afterward. King chose Colorado for MISERY, even though I found Maine a better location in many ways. I could imagine super fan, Annie Wilkes, lurking in a clapboard house under the canopy of gnarled oaks just waiting for her chance. Both places endure winters with lots of snow.

Stephen King and I almost physically ran into each other many years ago in a fitness club. We both said, “Oops, sorry,” and kept walking. At the time, he consulted on the mini-series, THE SHINING which took place at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park. THE STAND took place in Boulder. He must have been inspired by his trips to Colorado. His latest release, SLEEPING BEAUTIES, co-written with his son, Owen, takes place in a poor Appalachian town. Perfect.

Danny and I almost left Maine a day early. Instead, we drove to Camden, one of the highlights of our trip. I took this photo as we headed out of town.

The harbor in Camden, Maine

Life being ironic, as usual, we got stuck at the airport due to thunderstorms in Chicago and a stubborn baggage door. We had to stay an extra day!

Instead of flying through Chicago that Sunday, we traveled through New York. I remembered my son’s words when starting the four-hour trip home from JFK. “Maybe Maine will inspire you…”

I pulled out my cell phone and began to write.

Maine highway

~~~

Have you ever gone on vacation with completely different expectations? What’s your favorite King novel? Have you seen IT in the theater?

Related posts:

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Haunted in Bruges! Photo Essay

Haunted at the Stanley Hotel

 

How La La Land Inspires Writers and Artists

Have you seen La La Land? You should. It will inspire you. Here’s why:

Writers and artists can be sensitive people, right? We tack our work up on the wall for everyone to judge and hope someone, anyone, even if they’re in the back of the room, gets what we were trying to do. It’s hard when we hear whispers and a few giggles. It’s all the H words; humbling, humiliating, horrifying and hell. So why do we keep doing it? Because of all the P words. It’s our passion. The potential to reach the precipitous peak of all our pleasurable dreams by perseverance would be pure paradise. Okay, so I’m pushing it.

la-la-land

La La Land is a vibrant musical film. It shows how Hollywood can suck hope from a person unless they’re willing to take a risk and persevere through all those H words.

The following paragraph includes SPOILERS: I watched Mia, played by Emma Stone, appear in front of stoney-faced production heads while she auditioned her heart out. Time after time, she faced rejections. Sebastian, played by Ryan Gosling, sells out to play his piano just about anywhere, even though his heart belongs to jazz. The odds are against them.

Three things really hit me:

A teacher at Icon Collective Music Production School recently told my son, Kelly, all artists face horrible rejection at some point. Most give up. Successful artists persevere, take risks, and follow their passion no matter what happens.

The second takeaway? Support. Surrounding yourself with people who “get what you’re trying to do,” is imperative. We have to make the effort to find them. All it takes is one.

The last message I got from the movie was about sacrifice and choices.  Sometimes we have to choose what’s uncomfortable in order to grow as an artist. Following a passion may not be convenient and can be isolating. Most of us won’t be faced with the choices Mia and Sebastian had to make, but I think the message in the ending was clear.

SPOILER ALERT! They chose their passion over passion. Watch the movie and you’ll see what I mean.

End of spoilers.

la_la_land_film

The irony of La La Land? It took all those P words and six years in order to make this film, according to writer and director, Damian Chazelle. No one believed a musical would make any money. He said this while accepting awards on stage at the Golden Globes. His film took seven of them, including Best Picture. He embodied his film’s message. He dedicated his first award “to all the musical theater geeks out there.”

Watching this movie after posting about my failed resolutions really hit me.

As a writer, rejections pile up. Writing books, screenplays, and blog posts take most of my free time. I’ve already faced cancer and freaked out over how short life can be. I asked myself point blank. “Is this really how I want to spend the rest of it?”

In that moment, I wondered what life would have been like if I hadn’t started writing almost six years ago. No books. No screenplays. No blogging communities or conferences or writer friends. There are other ways I could create, after all, I graduated in art, but it comes down to passion. I couldn’t imagine that alternate universe. I love writing. I can’t give it up.

So bring it on, H words! I will continue to ignore the whispers and giggles. It’s part of the process of following my passion. I’ll reach that precipitous peak, someday.

Have you seen La La Land? What’s your passion? Do you eat popcorn with or without butter?

Demystifying Contests, Winning, and My Results

When I discovered I was a contest finalist in the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Colorado Gold Contest (that’s a mouthful), I felt like I already won. I knew many had participated, so I was grateful to be selected. I had noticed the finalist distinction on book covers and in descriptions. Whoa!

I didn’t understand how the prizes would be distributed.

There were six in my category since there was a tie, so would they start with 6th place? I checked out past winners. RMFW listed the first place winner and the rest in alphabetical order underneath. I was mystified, baffled. I held a blank, open-mouthed, “What?” kind of stare while trying to make sense of it. I’ll admit, I’m easily confused. I would find out Saturday night.

Some of the past winners had entered from as far away as Australia, Japan, and United Arab Emirates.

Wow. All they needed to do was join RMFW. I figured they had won a contest and then continued entering others with the same manuscript.

When I checked into the conference, I received my name tag and a finalist ribbon. It was an honor to wear it and a great icebreaker. Many others wore lots of ribbons – volunteers, authors, presenters, agents, editors…

The conference was amazing. My head is still spinning from all the information and sensory overload. The night of the award ceremony, I sat with a great group of new and old friends: super sweet agent, Rachelle Gardner, me, and old hands at winning, Kim Lajevardi and Judy Rose.

rmfw-conference-2016

I met another contestant from my category, Craig Holt, from Washington and wondered if any others were in attendance. He had already finaled in the Pacific Northwest Writers Conference and one other contest. Since his manuscript was on a roll, he planned to enter in several more. Just like I thought.

The emcee started with action/thriller finalists, so I had to wing it. *gulp*

I walked onstage and waited for the rest of the contestants to join me. After a minute of standing alone, Craig and Val Moses joined me on stage. When they announced Val’s name as “the first finalist,” she didn’t understand what they said. Neither did I. She walked past me to receive her certificate. I was announced as second finalist and for a moment thought that meant 2nd place. I was thrilled until she announced 3rd place, who wasn’t there to receive the award. Oh! That’s when I understood what was going on. Craig took 2nd, then Charles Kowalski, who lives in Japan (the same guy who won in 2013!), took 1st. I figured I took fifth place by the order of announcement.

I talked to my friends who explained there were 1st, 2nd, and 3rd places and the rest remained finalists. Ohhhhhhh! I was glad of that. I’m not 4th, 5th, or 6th. THE FOREBODING is listed in alphabetical order on the list of finalists. If I had called my book FOREBODING, I would have jumped higher on the list. Ha!

One of the prizes in being a finalist was my first pick of an agent or editor to pitch, which can be a nerve-wracking experience.

I’ve had some nightmarish pitching sessions, so I always get a little nervous. Okay. I get reeeeeeally nervous. One time the agent stared at me without blinking and I thought my poor pitch had sent her into a catatonic state. She finally said she didn’t represent my genre. Then, there was the time when I couldn’t complete sentence without the agent interrupting me to tell me how I was pitching all wrong. That pitch became a lecture and our Skype interview ran overtime and cut her off mid-sentence.

This time, I sat down with a lovely editor from a publishing giant. Her interest and questions put me at ease. After requesting pages (YAY!), I told her my plan to have a second draft of another thriller done by the end of November. Then I launched into my Boob Reports and how I want nipple tattoos and plan to publish the book after I hit five years cancer-free . Talk about relaxed. She mentioned it was good to include future projects in a pitch to convey that I am a career writer. Good to know. I’ve got lots of projects lined up.

Another huge bonus of entering in the contest happened on Monday when I opened up the envelope with my certificate and read notes from the judges. They blew my mind and gave me the best advice EVER. I sat down to study the notes at 9:00 AM and tweaked my manuscript until 5:45 PM! Now it’s a cleaner, clearer story. Then I tackled their notes on my synopsis and answered their questions. Now its 925 words. Most agents want a 500-600 word summary. Oh, well. Simplifying it will be tomorrow’s project. Synopsis is the bane of my existence. 

Now that contests no longer mystify me, watch out Japan, Australia and United Arab Emirates. I may enter THE FOREBODING in your local Writer’s Conference.

Do you know anyone who can rewrite a manuscript in Japanese or Arabic?

So I came to the conference a winner and I left a winner.

Celebrating with my finalist certificate!

Do you enter contests? Do you plan to enter contests in the future?

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Friday is the next Drop and Hop blog party to meet bloggers and gain new subscribers. Be ready to drop a link and dance!

Exciting Book News and a Big Leap in the Right Direction

InExciting Book News and a Step in the Right Direction one of my first classes at Wanderlust Yoga Festival, the meditation instructor told us to ask the universe the ultimate question. “Who am I?”

I asked, “Should I be a writer?” I mean, I spend a majority of my time writing blog posts, screenplays and books. My first book took years. What if I’m supposed to be doing something else with my life? Kind of a frightening thought, right?

After our last class and an amazing experience over four days in Whistler, BC, I met my daughter, Courtney, at a restaurant. While we chatted over lunch, my phone buzzed. It was noisy and I couldn’t hear the caller. The number was similar to my oncologist’s and I thought someone was calling from the RMCC. Rocky Mountain Cancer Center. I’m three years out and had scheduled a six month checkup for a few days from then. Anything related to cancer makes my heart stop.

“This is Pamela Nowak from RMFW. Your manuscript, THE FOREBODING, has been selected as a finalist in the Colorado Gold Contest.

OH! Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers!!

“Wow. I can’t believe it! Thank you so much!” She gave me the details, we hung up, and I told Courtney.

Shocked and excited, I had to go outside to DANCE!

Exciting Book News and Big Leap in the Right Direction.

Courtney took this shot through the restaurant’s window.

The universe heard me loud and clear. I’m on the right track. This is my debut novel and the result of a huge learning curve. I think of it as my thesis from five years of intensive study through all kinds of classes, including the school of pervasive and incessant rapping on my pointed head.

This coming Saturday night, September 10th, six of us will stand up in the front of the room and the winners will be announced for best action/thriller. Sure I’m nervous, but honestly, I already feel like a winner. Haven’t you heard that overused line a million times on awards shows? It’s the truth. No matter what place it gets, I’ve already won.

THE FOREBODING is a finalist! How cool is that?

6th place or 1st, my husband, Danny, will be there to record another happy dance.

How do you react to good news? Do you think you’re on the right path?

Follow me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. It’s always a Wild Ride!

 

Traditional vs. Self-Publishing Blew Up Facebook

For me traditional publishing means poverty. But self-publish? No wayMy Facebook page blew up with comments after I shared an article written for The Guardian by Ros Barber entitled, “For me traditional publishing means poverty, but self-publishing? No way.”

Whoa!

She believes that making a living as a writer is almost impossible when being traditionally published since authors receive such a low percentage on the sale of each book. But self-publishing is much worse given the author is stuck with marketing. She went on to slam anyone who spams up his Twitter feed with book sales.

If you want all the deets, please read this article.

My only comment on Facebook was, “Interesting!” I thought a neutral response would encourage others to sound off. Believe me, I heard them loud and clear.

Barber calls self-publishing “a terrible idea” and enters the danger zone. There are many ways to become published these days. Agents are no longer gatekeepers. There are many publishers who will accept un-agented queries. Self-publishing may be appropriate too.

Despite what Barber says there is no right or wrong way. It’s your choice.

There are a lot of hybrid authors, like Chuck Wendig, who have self-published and have been traditionally published. He seems pretty successful to me.

Now I will use myself as an example:

I am an unpublished author.

Plan A.

Currently, I am querying agents for representation and hope to have my book traditionally published sometime before the next millennium.

If I exhaust my list of agents, I will turn to:

Plan B.

I will query publishers directly. There is a wide range of them from boutique to Big Five. I would only query those with a marketing plan in place.

If I exhaust that list, I will be bummed, but will definitely turn to:

Plan C.

Self-publish.

Vanity presses contact me all the time. They are willing to package formatting, cover art, marketing, etc., for a price. The other option is to pay individual professionals or I can do it all myself. *gulp*

I rarely go down this road of thinking since I believe I can get my book published, traditionally.

Here’s the delio – WE NEED TO RESPECT EVERYONE’S CHOICES!

I do agree with Barber on one point. The only way to improve our craft is by writing a ton. Eventually, we will improve. Writing a book is nothing like writing a blog post or an article for The Guardian. There is so much to learn. No one knows it all. Sorry, Mr. Patterson.

Kidding! I would love to collaborate with you someday.

No matter what kind of publishing you choose, you will be successful at selling your book if you write a good one.

Now excuse me. I have to polish mine.

What’s your opinion? Traditional, self-pub, or hybrid?

Go ahead. Blow up my comment section.

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What Dreams Teach Writers

Dreams teach us lots of things about ourselves, our daily lives, and what stresses us out. As a writer, I’ve learned one more crucial thing.

“Sweet dreams,” our mothers said while tucking us into bed.

Pshh! When was the last time you had a sweet dream? Do your dreams come true in your dreams? Are you accepting a Hugo or Edgar award for exceptional writing? If you do, I would love to live in your subconscious.

My dreams are nothing like that.

I look forward to going to sleep. It can be such a relief after a hectic day, but my dreams seldom are a place where I rest. I never, ever get what I want.

DreamscapeDream #1.

I am lost and hungry as I thrash my way through the jungle at night. Dirt clings to my body, slick with sweat. I’m tired and want to sit down to rest, but am desperate to find civilization. A warm light flickers through the dense understory. It’s a campfire. Relieved, I run toward the clearing.

A haggard man turns a spit. Other dirty campers lift their gaze as I approach them.

“What kind of meat is that?” I ask.

He looks up at me and says, “Human.”

Dream #2.

Tuesday night, I dreamed of a lyrical stone village seen through a dark arched walkway. The contrast of cool and warm colors resembled a Maxfield Parrish painting. I pulled out my camera to capture this amazing sight. Then a huge sweaty man with camera bags dangling from his shoulders and a backpack full of supplies appeared. He stepped right in front of me. After he pulled out a tripod, he set up MY SHOT.

Dream #3.

I’m in a big city and am shopping in a boutique when I realize I’ve been separated from my family. We’re on vacation and have no way of communicating. I hear a bus roar from the curb and see them through the back window.

Wait. That actually happened to me in Ireland fifteen years ago.

Do you see a pattern?

I want something, but can’t have it. BOOM! That’s conflict. It’s the basis for basic storytelling.

I’ve read so many books where terrible things ALMOST happen. WHY??? A fictional character is a figment of the writer’s imagination. She is NOT real. These terrible things are NOT happening in real life. They are NOT your younger siblings or your children.

If you let your subconscious take over, it will do a better job of creating conflict and writing a book.

I understand the need to keep a main character alive until the end, but let her make mistakes, get into trouble, get hurt, and humiliate herself. The idea is to think of the worst-case scenario. Too obvious? Then let your subconscious go wild. Consider all the directions and see where another path takes you. Is it uncomfortable? Good. You’re on the right track.

Nobody wants to read about a fun day at Disneyland. We have Facebook for that.

But imagine a babysitter is trying to reel in five kids at Disneyland. She’s not getting paid enough. The children have been fighting all morning. One gets sick on a ride, then another gets hurt on Space Mountain. A child-trafficker is on the loose and has been stalking them. While the kid is getting bandaged, the babysitter counts heads. One is missing.

Now you have a story.

Make your characters suffer. If you make their journey easy, it becomes a travelogue or yawnfest.

You say you aren’t built that way? Yes, you are. Your sub-conscious makes you suffer every night. Working out conflict in your dreams is your brain’s way of making sense of the world.

When reading, we slip into another world seen through the character’s eyes. Their world should change after overcoming conflict. In turn, the best books should also change our perspective of the world.

I woke up after the camper responded, “Human.” But, what if I hadn’t?

First thing to come to mind? “Pass the barbecue sauce.”

Blame it on my Wild sub-conscious.

 

Are your dreams full of conflict? Have you read a book that didn’t go far enough? Do you have your Hugo or Edgar Award acceptance speech prepared?

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Blogging Tips from a Wild Rider: How to Hook Readers

 

Valentine’s Day Drop and Hop Party!

 

2016 Valentine's Day party 1Happy Valentine’s Day!

It’s time to make some new friends by dropping a link and hopping to other blogs! It’s a great way to #sharethelove on Valentine’s Day.

  1. Drop a link to your blog in the comments.
  2. Invite others to your place. Include a short hook. Tell us what you blog about.
  3. Check out links to other blogs.
  4. Hop to a few. Tell them, “Susie sent me,” and they should click back to your place!
  5. Subscribe!

Be my Valentine and make some new friends. Maybe they will follow your blog.

Shout it out on social media with #Sundayblogshare, #Weekendbloghop, and #sharethelove!

While you’re here, grab a drink from the bar or barista. Help yourself to the Valentine’s Day buffet. Delectable treats have been flown in from around the world and everything is calorie-free.

DJ KSmash is in the house. So don’t forget to DANCE!

Make my Valentine’s Day really special and follow my blog.

Happy Valentine’s Day!